LIONS AND NOAH AND GROANS, OH MY!:
DANGEROUS BEASTS ABOARD THE ARK
~ Erica L. Martin ~
The author must envision some nefarious act on Noah’s part if a lion attack is depicted as Noah’s just desserts!
Genesis provides no account of what can only have been a challenging journey aboard the ark
Feeding and cleaning up after all the animals aboard Noah’s ark cannot have been a simple task. The thought of Noah’s overwhelming task occupied ancient Jewish interpreters who pondered relative feeding schedules, waste removal, and the difficulty of approaching dangerous beasts. A few fascinating rabbinic texts depict a horrific scenario: Noah attacked and wounded by a lion! Tanhuma Buber 2.14 tells the story thus:
R. Johanan said in the name of R. Eleazer b. R. Jose the Galilean: One time, when Noah was late in feeding the lion, the lion bit him, and he went away limping. Thus it is stated (in Gen 7:23) AND NOAH ONLY (SURVIVED).
R. Huna said in the name of R. Jose: When Noah went forth from the ark, he gave a heartfelt groan. He therefore said (according to Ps. 142:8 ): BRING MY SOUL OUT OF PRISON…THROUGH ME SHALL THE RIGHTEOUS WEAR A CROWN, i.e., through me shall the righteous take up a crown in the world. 
Although the question of how Noah managed livestock and wild beasts aboard the ark is the subject of many traditions, I submit that in the above text the Lion Attack tradition is not merely a fanciful legend, but a solution to an exegetical problem in the biblical text. Genesis 7.23 reads “He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, human beings and animals and creeping things and birds of the air; they were blotted out from the earth. And only Noah was left, and those that were with him in the ark.”
Sensitive to the emphatic "only" (in Hebrew the sound of the word אך is “Ahhch”) - a clever reader realized that this word is not necessary to the meaning of the biblical verse; it makes just as much sense to read “And Noah was left,” omitting the word “only.” Therefore, the second part of the interpretation reads “Ahhch” not as the superfluous “only” but as a sigh or groan emitted by Noah as he stepped down from the Ark. The natural question then becomes, what did Noah sigh or groan? The interpretation supplies the answer in the form of a quotation from Psalm 142:7, “Bring me out of prison, so that I may give thanks to your name. The righteous will surround me, for you will deal bountifully with me.” An apt sentiment for a man who has spent months imprisoned in an Ark!
The interpretation of “only Noah was left” does not make much sense, however, unless it means to say that Noah groaned as he left the ark because of pain from the wound that the lion had inflicted upon him. How then is the exegesis of “only Noah was left” related to the Lion Attack element? An examination of two more variants of the tradition is needed to discover the connection. Genesis Rabbah 30.6 reads:
Thus it is written, THE FRUIT OF THE RIGHTEOUS IS A TREE OF LIFE, AND HE THAT IS WISE TAKETH SOULS (Prov. 11:30): what is the fruit of the righteous? Life, religious actions and good deeds. And he that is wise taketh souls: for he fed and provided for [its inhabitants] the whole twelve months in the Ark. After all this praise, BEHOLD, SHALL THE RIGHTEOUS BE REQUITED IN THE EARTH? When he was about to leave it, was he requited? Surely R. Huna said in R. Liezer’s name: When Noah was leaving the Ark a lion set on him and maimed him, so that he was not fit to sacrifice, and his son Shem sacrificed in his stead. Infer from this: HOW MUCH MORE THE WICKED AND THE SINNER, which refers to the generation of the flood. 
Although Tanhuma Buber and Genesis Rabbah credit the same rabbis in their retellings of the Lion Attack tradition, it is clear that the names of rabbis and the appearance of a lion are the only constants, while the intertexts and explanations are subject to change from version to version. The above quote from Genesis Rabbah 30.6 attempts to interpret Proverbs 11:30-31 in terms of the Noah story. First, the phrase “he that is wise taketh souls” is said to refer to Noah’s care and feeding of the animals on the Ark, although the link between these ideas seems forced. Second, in answer to Proverbs’ question “shall the righteous be requited in the earth?” the text affirms that Noah was requited as he exited the Ark. But how was Noah requited? He was maimed by a lion! The text suffers incoherence, for the author must envision some nefarious act on Noah’s part if a lion attack is depicted as Noah’s just desserts! Note also that the result of the lion’s attack is not an inability to cohabit, but an inability to perform sacrifice.
Tahhuma Buber 2.3 preserves what I believe to be the earliest available version of the Lion Attack tradition, which uses both the “only Noah was left” and “shall the righteous be requited in the earth” biblical texts in a coherent manner:
BEHOLD, A RIGHTEOUS ONE SHALL BE RECOMPENSED ON EARTH. BEHOLD, A RIGHTEOUS ONE. This is Noah, since it is stated (in Gen 6:9): Noah was a righteous man. Because he was diligent [in making] the ark, he was immediately recompensed, as stated (in Prov 11:31): BEHOLD, A RIGHTEOUS ONE SHALL BE RECOMPENSED ON EARTH.
R. Huna said: When he came out of the ark, he gave a heartfelt groan, since it is stated (in Gen 7:23) AND NOAH ONLY WAS LEFT. “And Noah was left” is not written here, but AND NOAH ONLY WAS LEFT, a term of reduction. R. Johanan said in the name of R. Eliezer b. R. Jose the Galilean: Noah did not leave the ark until the lion had injured him. The Holy Spirit has stated: Are the righteous recompensed and the wicked not recompensed? (Prov. 11:31) BEHOLD, A RIGHTEOUS ONE SHALL BE RECOMPENSED ON EARTH.
Reading the first section of this excerpt, we are able to see that Proverbs 11:31-31 became connected to the story of Noah (specifically Genesis 6:9) because both share the word righteous. Furthermore, in this formulation of the tradition Noah is requited specifically because of his righteousness – because he diligently constructed the Ark according to the divine command. The nature of that recompense, implied rather than stated, seems to have been salvation from the flood waters.
In the second section of the excerpt we are presented with another explanation of the connection between Noah’s groaning implied by the verse “only Noah was left” and the Lion attack. Again, the problem with the seemingly superfluous only is addressed. In this instance Ahhch is interpreted as a groan, but also read with all the word’s restrictive force as a grammatical particle that diminishes or reduces that which follows. Therefore, the exegesis in Tahhuma Buber 2.3 holds that Noah himself emerged from the Ark diminished in some way, wounded, and supplies a plausible scenario for the occasion of that injury: one of the dangerous beasts aboard the craft must have attacked him.
It is possible to reconstruct how the Lion Attack tradition may have evolved across the texts that we have discussed:
(1) In Tanhuma Buber 2.3 ‘only Noah was left’ is interpreted both as a groan and as an indication that Noah suffered a wound aboard the ark. A lion attack is supplied as the occasion of the injury. Proverbs 11:30-31 is used as an intertext in this discussion because of the word ‘righteous’ it shares with Genesis 6:9, with the salvation from the flood being seen as recompense for Noah’s righteousness.
(2) By the time the ‘lion attack’ tradition appears in Genesis Rabbah 30.6, however, the exegesis of ‘only Noah was left’ has dropped out of the tradition, leaving the lion attack itself as the ironic recompense earned by Noah. That the word ‘righteous’ is the occasion for the Proverbs intertext is no longer explicit. Noah’s injury precludes him from the priesthood.
(3) Tanhuma Buber 2.14 is not concerned with the illumination of the Proverbs 11 intertext, eliminating it altogether. Instead, Tanhuma Buber 2.14 focuses its attention on the question of what was uttered by Noah when he groaned, and supplies Psalm 142:7 as Noah’s words, “Bring me out of prison…”
In one final text, the Lion Attack finally detached from its exegetical moorings as an explanation of “only Noah was left” altogether. Genesis Rabbah 36.4 states:
R. Huna said in R. Eliezer’s name: When Noah was leaving the Ark a lion struck and mutilated him. Now he went to cohabit, but his semen was scattered and he was humiliated.
Genesis Rabbah 36.4 is also the only version which specifies Noah’s injury as some sort of genital wound. It is, of course, possible that genital injury is assumed by the other versions; but perhaps this detail was added in Genesis Rabbah 36.4 to explain an altogether different exegetical quandary: Noah’s lack of sons and daughters born after the flood. The phrase “he had other sons and daughters” is used of the other characters in Genesis 5 and 11:10-15, but never of Noah.  This exception is especially glaring when one remembers that Noah has just been both blessed with fertility (Gen 9:1) and commanded to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 9:7). The variant of the Lion Attack tradition in Genesis Rabbah 36.4 depicting Noah’s inability to complete the procreative act may have been designed to explain his lack of post-flood generativity.
 Translations from Tanhuma Buber are mine.
 c.f. Leviticus Rabbah 20:1. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes from Midrash Rabbah are taken from The Soncino classics collection [electronic resource] (Brooklyn, N.Y.: Davka Corporation: Judaica Press,2001).
 Baumgarten, A.I. “Myth and Midrash: Gen 9:20-29.” In Christianity, Judaism and Other Greco-Roman Cults, ed. Jacob Neusner, 3, 55-71, Leiden: Brill, 1975, 63.
For a much fuller discussion of the Lion Attack tradition and exploration of rabbinic motives, see Erica L. Martin, “The Rabbinic Knife: Why and How the Rabbis Castrated Noah,” in Midrash and the Exegetical Mind, ed. Lieve Teugels and Rivka Ulmer (New Jersey: Gorgias Press, 2012), 67–87.
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An apt sentiment for a man who has spent months imprisoned in an Ark!
Noah himself emerged from the Ark diminished in some way, wounded...one of the dangerous beasts aboard the craft must have attacked him
According to Genesis Rabbah, Noah must have been wounded in his genitals, since he did not obey the command to "be fruitful and multiply" after the flood.